The original Japanese title, as opposed to the bland action-potboiler American reissue, actually refers to a baseball scorecard. Takeshi Kitano opens mid-inning, a hangdog benchwarmer (Masahiko Ono) steps out of the outhouse as the camera cranes slightly to give the diamond its geometry. (The first of its stone-faced koan is dropped: Playing in the middle of the dust is pretty dumb, watching it is dumber still.) Ono strikes out thrice but then smacks a homer, only to have it annulled when he outruns the runner -- the rigidity and inanity of life's rules, understood by the Yakuza ("We're gangsters. We can't go to the cops"). The put-upon sloth finally strikes back, the problem is that his victim has the underworld to back him up, the caustic joke (gangland health care is the setup) snowballs viciously. Kitano's progression from the formalism of Violent Cop lies on the discovery of camera position as not just abrupt but comedic sculpture, couched in deft ellipsis: A long-shot of a punk riding a motorcycle segues into a close-up of the same guy's sullen, bloodied face while hanging on to the same tranquil note. Later, Kitano composes a beautiful snapshot by the Okinawa beachfront then cuts to the reverse angle to reveal a distant figure in the bushes, who scuttles from background to foreground to demand toilet paper. The filmmaker's own appearance as a slaphappy sodomizer in debt expands the wackiness and cannily unsettles the Spartan rigor -- a staggering long take paints a karaoke bar through intoxicated lenses, where an act of macho brutality dreamily takes place twice. (Kitano's control is such that he can turn even bad timing into a gag, offering an uncooperative machine-gun hidden in a bouquet of flowers gleaned from a Van Gogh field.) A work of varied and strange miracles, with indelible lessons on the Hawksian value of ice-cream and the meditative potential of sitting in a latrine in the dark. With Yuriko Ishida, Takahito Iguchi, Minoru Iizuka, and Eri Fuse.
--- Fernando F. Croce